New exhibit explores city’s 1960s artistic coming of age
It’s something that has been a part of Harvey Locke’s life since he was a boy and has travelled with him through moves across several provinces and abroad — a painting of a downtown Calgary alley on a cold and snowy day.
In the mid-1950s, Locke’s parents bought the painting from artist Jim Nicholl.
Nicholl and his wife Marion, also an artist, had a studio on Bowness Road, across the street from the home of Locke’s grandmother. The couple was selling their artwork to raise money for Marion to travel to New York to study art and modernism.
Photo courtesy of Andy NicholsLocke, now an attorney and conservationist, grew up with the painting hanging in his family’s home. He says that it depicts what he fondly remembers as the Calgary of his childhood.
“It’s perfect. Jim Nicoll captured the light and the cold of downtown Calgary,” Locke says.
“When you grow up in Calgary and then later travel to other places, you begin to realize that the light elsewhere isn’t the same.”
Locke’s father gave him the painting in the early 1980s. Locke says the painting has been with him in every city that he has lived in since then.
“It’s always gives me a sense of home. I love this painting.”
Now Calgarians have the chance to see the painting.
Locke has loaned the piece to the Glenbow Museum for a new exhibit.
Made In Calgary: The 1960s showcases the artistic and cultural changes the city witnessed during the course of the decade.
The exhibition is the first installment of a year-long celebration of artists who have lived and worked in Calgary over the last 50 years. Four other exhibits, each focusing on a success decade, will debut later this year.
Decade-by-decade look at art in Calgary
Mary Beth LaViolette, the curator who put the exhibit together, says that while the Glenbow has held retrospectives before, this is the first time there has been a decade-by-decade show.
Made In Calgary: The 1960s is organized into three separate themes:
- Friends and colleagues
The exhibit surveys the city through paintings, original prints, sculpture, ceramics and textile art created by local artists during the decade.
LaViolette says that the exhibit provides insight into how “active and energetic” the arts community was in Calgary during the ’60s.
“It was an art community that was very interested in what was going on in the larger art world,” LaViolette says.
“They wanted to be part of the larger scene that was going on at the time — abstraction, pop art, found art.”
Several pieces, such as Locke’s painting, have been loaned by private collectors.
Art in Alberta comes of age
Les Graff, a 1959 graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), says that Alberta’s art tended to be very “regional” prior to the ’60s, with most of the emphasis on local subject matter such as mountains.
“There was an idea of what art in Alberta was all about, but it was a very dated idea,” says Graff, who worked with the province’s Visual Arts branch for over 30 years.
Graff says the Glenbow installment will showcase artists who “suddenly got in step with the 20th century and started to do things differently.”
This shift in Alberta’s art scene began when students and instructors from the then Alberta College of Art started to study under well-known artists outside the province in the United States, Europe and Mexico. Graff himself studied in Michigan.
“They came back to Calgary with new ideas,” Graff says.
The increase in students led to an influx of out-of-province instructors, which Graff says added a whole new dimension to art instruction available within Alberta.
This change was coupled with a general growing interest in art in all parts of Alberta — what Graff calls a “grassroots” movement.
“People were taking painting classes and learning ceramics and how to weave,” Graff says. “There was increasing enrollment at every level, and so there was a tremendous expansion of ideas.”
Graff says this interest translated into another important step in the development of art in Calgary: the growth of public and private art galleries.
“If one was to look at a Calgary telephone book from the early ’50s to find the number of galleries and then look at one from late ’60s, there is no comparison between what existed earlier and what existed later.”
LaViolette thinks people will be surprised by the depth and variety of the artistic mediums on display.
“It covers a very broad section of work,” LaViolette says.
Made In Calgary: The 1960s runs until April 28. The next installment in the series deals with the city’s art scene in the ’70s. It opens in May.
Did you visit Made In Calgary: The 1960s? Tell us what you thought of the exhibit.